In Iowa, the Candidate's Wife Introduces the 'Real Obamas'
ROCKWELL CITY, Iowa--From Waterloo to Iowa Falls and Fort Dodge to Boone, Michelle Obama picked up her campaign pace this week, telling enthusiastic audiences that her husband can change the nation. She urged a group seated on folding chairs in a library basement here, "Just dream. If you reach into your hearts and act without fear, we can do something special."
Sen. Barack Obama, well behind Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in national polls, is intensifying his efforts in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where strategists hope to raise the Illinois Democrat's profile and build steam after months when Clinton's position has grown only stronger.
Michelle Obama's role, as she describes it, is to introduce "the real Obamas, not the resumes." In a stump speech that she varies and delivers without notes, she tells of her upbringing in a working class family in Chicago. She goes on to say that, after Princeton University and Harvard Law School, she met this biracial guy from Hawaii with a funny name who overcame her skepticism by being authentic and principled -- and cute.
Mindful of doubts about Barack Obama's experience and toughness, she has added riffs that guide her listeners through his work as a community organizer, public interest lawyer, University of Chicago constitutional law professor and 11 years in elective office. Experience should not be equated with time spent in Washington, she says, arguing that old Washington hands led the nation into war because of their "inability to see the forest for the trees."
"We need someone who understands and respects the Constitution, particularly as we have seen it obliterated," Michelle Obama told more than 100 people at a Fort Dodge art museum Wednesday. Noting that skeptics ask whether he can take the GOP's best shot and still win, she reminded her audience of the political rough and tumble of his adopted town: "Look, we live in Chicago. Need I say more?"
Obama made six stops in two days, canceling two on Tuesday after a motorcyclist slammed into her campaign van south of Hampton. It was her tenth trip to Iowa, but her first campaign overnight without daughters Malia, 9, and Sasha, 6, who remain in school in Chicago. She leaves for a London fundraising excursion on Sunday and expects to be a regular in Iowa and New Hampshire, with additional stops in South Carolina and Nevada, in the two and a half months or so before voting begins.
She says she is undaunted by Clinton's lead, remembering her husband's improbable victory in the 2004 Illinois Senate race against well-known and well-funded Democrats backed by the party establishment. One hope in Obamaville is that that Clinton is overplaying her inevitability theme, and will be upbraided by independent-minded Iowa and New Hampshire voters.
"We're three months out," Michelle Obama, 43, a University of Chicago Hospitals vice president, said in an interview. "This is the beginning of the race. People are just starting to pay attention."
The campaign is sponsoring a "Women for Obama" training session on Saturday in Des Moines. Participants will spend 5 1/2 hours with Obama policy advisors and communications specialists at workshops with names such as "message training," "policy training," "grassroots organizing" and "caucus activity."
Barack Obama, who worked for three years in impoverished South Side neighborhoods after graduating from Columbia University, will make an appearance.
"History will tell you that while the clock is ticking, there's a lot of time," David Axelrod, the campaign's chief strategist said after listening to Obama talk to the Rockwell City crowd. "The real action is not in the last 100 days, it's in the last 30."
The Obama campaign is counting on it.
-- Peter Slevin
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